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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

HOME IN EXILE                             309

commandeer labour. He asked Cheng to order the local government
to obtain material in the open market and forbid levies of labour and
material. Otherwise, he pointed out, "the harm done to the people
would be greater than the fire itself."

Standing in the streets of Huichow, he saw something that hurt him
deeply. He saw the farmers sending cart-loads of grain and corn to the
city to pay taxes to the government. Because of good crops, the price of
grain had fallen, and the government bureau refused to receive them.
This was characteristically Su's business. He made inquiries and found
that the government wanted cash, since the price of grain was low. The
farmers had to sell the grain at low market price to obtain the cash, but
the cash that the farmers had to pay as tax was based on the prices of
grain when they were high. The result was that the farmers had to
sell two bushels of rice to obtain the cash for what they owed the
government on one bushel. He wrote a long letter to Cheng, like those
argumentative, impetuous letters he used to write to the Empress
Dowager, exposing this practice for what it was—one-hundred-per-cent
extortion from the peasants. He requested that Cheng arrange a con-
ference with the tax commissioner and the transportation commissioner
in the district, and propose to the government that the people should be
taxed according to the current price of grain. Months later, he was
happy to learn that the three commissioners had decided to sign a joint
petition to the government.

He began now to be interested in the reform and improvement of
the city. Following his instinct for construction, through a conference
with Cheng and the district and county magistrates he had two bridges
built, one across the river and one across the lake at Huichow. To the
building of these bridges Tseyu's wife contributed a number of golden
coins that she had received from the court. While engaged in this work,
he did one thing that was specially appreciated by the populace, namely,
the building of a great mound to rebury the skeletons found in owner-
less graves. After the skeletons were reinterred, he wrote a sacrificial
prayer to these unknown dead. He was sure they were either common
people or soldiers. He regretted the fact that some of the skeletons
were incomplete and that he had to put them all together in a common
.grave, but hoped that the spirits would live together in peace like
members of a family. He also had a fish preserve built near the lake
west of the city. This was a stricdy Buddhist institution based on the
theory of reincarnation and the belief that many of the fish may have
been human beings before. Once let into this preserve, the fish were
safe for their lives. This lake became known as "Su Tungpo's Let-Live
Lake", and down to the nineteenth century the scholars and people of
the district still kept up this custom of buying a few fish to loose them
into the lake on festival days.